Community outrage at departmental decision to poison garden

Ed Rotgans is watching poison slowly kill plants and trees on a reserve in Taree that he has voluntarily weeded and mowed over eight years to transform into a garden.
Ed Rotgans is watching poison slowly kill plants and trees on a reserve in Taree that he has voluntarily weeded and mowed over eight years to transform into a garden.

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Community outrage is fuelling a campaign to stop the NSW Department of Industry Lands from taking further action to kill plants on a small reserve in High Street, Taree.

Thousands of vehicles drive past 5 High Street each day and most people look to see Ed Rotgans working in the neighbouring reserve and will fondly recall that until recently he was shadowed by a white Labrador, Lucky.

For the last 14 years, Mr Rotgans has called High Street home and about eight years ago, he and Lucky ventured into the overgrown, weed-infested reserve to “pull a few weeds”.

“You couldn’t walk through it. It was dense with lantana and privet, tobacco bush and camphor laurel. The lantana was so dense that I couldn’t see traffic coming around the corner and so I began.”

One weed at a time, he worked to clear the reserve. He knew it was not his land but “no one cared for it” and believed it would be “nice for people to see something other than weeds when they drive past.”

He invested thousands of hours and over time the reserve transformed from an eyesore to inviting green space.

“I always wanted to have something flowering so that people could see something other than weeds. 

“It’s much nicer to be able to see the water and have an open aspect and I’ve seen more people walking through here and walking their dogs.”

About a month ago, Mr Rotgans opened a letter from the Department of Industry Lands. He learnt that it owned the land, that it had “noted there has been significant propogation of non-indigenous flora at the site” and that it had engaged a contractor to “undertake weed control works”. The department also noted the presence of “minor structures and garden features” and directed him to immediately stop activities at the site.

About two weeks ago a contractor poisoned all the non-indigenous flora and weeds with Roundup and Brush Off. The garden is now slowly dying.

The Department of Industry Lands is now the focus of community outrage. Del Dennis, of Chatham, exposed the issue and it has rallied the community.

Mrs Dennis condemned the action of the department on Facebook page, Thumbs Up Manning Valley and branded it as “heartless”. She described the reserve as “Ed’s Garden of Eden” and cited it as “evidence of what one generous-hearted person could do without cost to anybody.”

“Ed ensured that he only planted the correct plants within the correct borders close to the creek, but on the area close to the road he planted many and varied plants that he had sourced and were gifted to him,” Mrs Dennis said.

“Now, with all the finesse of a rampaging elephant the lands department sent an insensitive letter telling him of their intention to get rid of it! It has now been sprayed with some pesticide that will no doubt be more damaging than the presence of some non-native plant.

“This little patch of land was a great part of his life's work, he knew all the plants and the garden played a big part in his wellbeing … Ed is bewildered and gutted!”